The three common small sandpipers resident in North America are collectively called “peeps.” The Least Sandpiper (Calidris minutilla) is the smallest of the peeps measuring a mere 6 inches.
To see a flock of these small shorebirds flying and turning in unison, changing from dark to light and back again, is truly a treat to behold.
It’s also fun to watch them forage on the mudflats as I did a few weeks ago at the Arcata Marsh.
Breeding mainly in subarctic tundra and far northern boreal forest over much of North America, the Least Sandpiper prefers coastal wetlands or subalpine sedge meadows for nesting. They migrate on a broad front across North America, with eastern populations likely undertaking nonstop transoceanic migrations of 3,000 to 4,000 kilometers1. Map courtesy of Birds of North America Online.
These peeps are in non-breeding plumage which always makes them more difficult to identify. Click on photos for full sized images.
A simple way to distinguish the Least Sandpiper from other peeps is their legs. Besides being slightly smaller, the Least Sandpiper is browner looking and has yellowish or greenish legs whereas the other peeps have blackish legs.
I caught this little one actually standing still for a brief moment.
This is most likely a juvenile Least Sandpiper. Notice that it is more colorful than some of the others, with extensive rufous on its shoulders and upperparts.
If you get a chance to see this little peep, take the time to watch them for awhile. They are bundles of energy.
You probably want to take the time right now to get on over to World Bird Wednesday and see all the other beautiful birds from all over the world.
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References: 1Birds of North America Online